Welcome to Montana, your new dream ski destination.
Here's where you'll find a combination of Utah's powder with Colorado's mountain splendor all while retaining authentic Western charms, but none of the long lift lines, high prices and stuffy exclusivity. From big, world-class resorts bordering iconic national parks to mellow, community-owned runs that boast all the altitude without any of the attitude, this is a top place to go skiing in the US. Here are Montana's best ski resorts.
1. Big Sky Resort is on an epic scale
Best resort for terrain and Montana glitz
From blue skies to grizzly bears, everything is supersized in Montana and that's nowhere truer than at Big Sky. The stats alone are enough to make you reach for your bindings: 5850 acres of terrain, 4350 vertical feet, 155 miles of runs and 36 ski lifts, spread over three mountains. Throw in lots of deep, fluffy powder and it's clear that this resort offers easily the biggest, highest and glitziest skiing in the state.
There are many reasons to choose Big Sky. The sheer size of the place guarantees no lift lines, even if its proximity to Bozeman airport means it's the easiest to reach from out of state. A day or two experiencing the frozen wonders of nearby Yellowstone National Park during its quietest and most dramatic season is another magnetic draw.
Skiers of all levels are well served. Novices and children enjoy superb ski schools, while experts can take the tram (additional fee) to the top of 11,116ft Lone Peak for incredible chutes and Warren Miller-style descents. There's also excellent cross-country skiing at Lone Mountain Ranch, and non-skiers can enjoy magical sleigh rides, dog sledding and day spas.
Already a world-class resort, a $150 million dollar upgrade is kicking Big Sky up a serious notch by 2025, with completed projects including new five-star accommodations and an eight-seater lift with heated seats, alongside a commitment to operate carbon neutral by 2030. Big Sky is clearly heading upscale, so if you are on a budget, get here soon.
Lift tickets: Expensive at $160–225 per day, but dropping to $100–120 per day for a five-day pass.
Getting to Big Sky: Bozeman Yellowstone Airport, 50 miles north of Big Sky, offers direct daily flights in winter to 14 cities across the USA, including with budget airlines JetBlue and Allegiant Air. Shuttle buses connect the two main lodging and dining areas and run to Bozeman town.
2. Whitefish Mountain Resort has great nightlife
Best for fabulous downhill skiing
Big Sky's main rival is Whitefish, in the northwestern corner of the state next to Glacier National Park, where the 111 world-class runs tumble off Big Mountain's hefty 2353ft of elevation drop. Some regulars mutter about a reputation for socked-in weather but on a clear day the epic views over Whitefish Lake, Glacier National Park and Flathead National Forest are simply breathtaking.
The resort's knockout advantage over the bigger terrain of Big Sky is the town of Whitefish, just 8 miles away on a free shuttle, and offering a great range of accommodations, restaurants and lively bars, alongside plenty of unpretentious Western charm. The resort's legendary Bierstube bar alone offers more après-ski than all of sedate Big Sky combined.
Whitefish is also particularly good for beginner and intermediate skiers, with first-timers scoring a screaming deal: two days of beginner area lift passes, rentals and two half-day lessons for $99.
Lift tickets: $94 per day.
Getting to Whitefish: The nearest airport is 26 miles away at Kalispell's Glacier International Airport. A great alternative is Amtrak’s daily Empire Builder, which offers a relaxed and green alternative to winter airport hassles. The overnighter from Seattle or Portland arrives in time to allow a full day's skiing.
3. Bridger Bowl offers excellent value skiing
Best grass-roots resort
While out-of-state visitors generally beeline straight to Big Sky, in-the-know Bozeman residents and college students head instead to the cold smoke powder and mellow vibe of community-owned Bridger Bowl. Run as a non-profit since 1955, Bridger combines big skiing (2000 acres of terrain, 2600 vertical feet, seven chairlifts) and a great range of terrain with some of the most wallet-friendly rates in the state.
Excellent ski school and day care programs cater to kids aged four and up, while the highest runs on the Ridge are reserved for expert skiers equipped with an avalanche receiver.
There are no on-slope accommodations so base yourself 30 minutes' drive away in the hip outdoors town of Bozeman. Several good-value restaurants, a bar and a tuning/rental outlet offer everything you might need on the mountain during the day.
Lift tickets: $70 online, with discounts for three- or five-day tickets. Ski/board rentals from $40 on the mountain, cheaper in Bozeman town.
Getting to Bridger Bowl: The resort is a 16-mile drive northeast of Bozeman. Free bus shuttles operate from the town's Montana State University or rent a car from Bozeman airport.
4. There are no frills at Montana Snowbowl
Best for low rates and big snow
You won't find any corporate slickness or fancy spa treatments at under-the-radar Snowbowl, just great skiing, low rates and a relaxed, no-frills vibe. Intermediate and above skiers will get the most joy here, focusing on the deep tree runs and steep lines of the upper mountain. The three chair lifts can be creaky but who cares when there are no lines.
Wood-fired pizza and Montana microbrews will keep you happy on the mountain but most people base themselves 12 miles away in the college town of Missoula, for its switched-on range of restaurants and bars.
Lift tickets: $68 ($58 if bought before Dec 1).
5. Red Lodge Mountain is perfect for cross-country skiers
Best for small-town charm
For a couple of days of small town skiing, consider the scenic, relaxed and super-friendly gem of Red Lodge Mountain, 70 miles south of Billings airport. The mountain offers all the requisite Montana draws – epic snow and no lift lines – but also the charming old-school Western town of Red Lodge, which boasts good restaurants, a fine brew-pub and lots of cross-country ski options. Relaxed and local, there's no pressure here, just good, honest downhill fun.
Lift tickets: from $65.
Getting to Red Lodge Mountain: Red Lodge Mountain is 70 miles south of Billings airport.